Local fishing guides were shocked to find that one of the newest outfits in the Fraser Valley left behind a trail of convictions and fines for unlawful hunting and fishing in Alberta.
Gerard Visneskie who started a sturgeon guiding business out of Chilliwack last summer, faces a hearing at the local Ministry office to see whether or not he “should be allowed to continue to guide, angle, hunt and/or carry firearms in British Columbia,” according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Visneskie and Sophie Goupil are recent transplants from Alberta where in late 2015 they were handed a combined total of $50,000 in fines, along with eight-year hunting and two-year fishing bans.
It was their proclivity to use social media that brought them down. On Jan. 28, 2014 Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch received a complaint via the Report A Poacher program that Visneskie had posted pictures and videos to Facebook and YouTube showing alleged illegal hunting activity.
One video showed Visneskie using live perch for bait. Another showed him pointing a handgun while hunting bears. Images of Goupil showed her posing with fish when she didn’t have a licence, posing with a deer and rifle when she didn’t have a licence, and posing with a dead lynx for which she did not have a licence to kill.
Goupil faced 39 charges and Visneskie 70 charges.
Mid-trial, on Sept. 28, 2015, Visneskie pleaded guilty to eight charges related to illegal hunting and fishing and Goupil pleaded guilty to five. The rest of the charges were withdrawn. In addition to the bans, Visneskie was fined $34,000 and Goupil $16,000.
The presiding judge in the case castigated the couple for not only violating the rules but for clearly doing it with pleasure, posting on social media.
“When you show off it means that you’re happy doing this,” Judge Karl Wilberg said, according to a SunMedia story dated Oct. 5, 2015.
In addition to the eight-year hunting, and two-year fishing restrictions, the couple were ordered to report any change of address to wildlife officers.
“I agree completely that you can’t be trusted,” Wilberg said.
The couple set up shop in Chilliwack last spring, and the local guiding community took notice.
There is also accusation that even if it was legitimate that Visneskie be given a guide licence, he was guiding before it was issued. A copy of his licence obtained by the Progress shows its date of issue as Aug. 26, 2016.
Yet on the Hooked Up with Screamin [sic] Reels Facebook page, a video of the catch and release of a large sturgeon is dated Aug. 1, 2016. There are also photos posted of clients catching fish as early as July.
Two fishing guides in the Lower Mainland expressed serious concern about the rule violations and convictions from Alberta, but neither would go on the record both pointing to the fact that Visneskie also faced six criminal code charges for weapons-related offences.
Chris Lefebvre is an avid local sports angler who came across the Alberta story about Visneskie and Goupil and is upset about what appears to be a circumvention of a sentence by relocation to another province.
“I’m not by any means an ‘expert’ in this area just hate to see a blatant disregard for our natural resources/regulations and manipulation of the laws to circumvent the consequences handed down in the first place,” Lefebvre said.
A spokesperson for Alberta’s Ministry of Justice said hunting and fishing suspensions from Alberta convictions only stop individuals from obtaining licences in that province. However, “in Alberta a person is not eligible to obtain an Alberta hunting or fishing licence if they are currently suspended from hunting or fishing, or buying hunting or fishing licences anywhere else,” the spokesperson said via email. In other words, if the violations happened in B.C. the couple would not be able to get a licence in Alberta.
As for how Visneskie got a guiding licence in B.C., a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said when someone applies for a permit in B.C., FrontCounter BC staff conduct an online non-compliance search.
“FrontCounter BC staff do not have access to non-compliance history from other jurisdictions, including charges laid under the Wildlife Act or Fisheries Act in Alberta,” he said.
The ministry did confirm, however, that an administrative hearing was scheduled for Feb. 24 at 9:30 a.m. at the Chilliwack Natural Resource District office.
“The hearing will determine whether or not Mr. Visneskie should be allowed to continue to guide, angle, hunt and/or carry firearms in British Columbia.”
Members of the guiding community have been encouraging one another to show up for the hearing.
Asked to comment on the Alberta convictions, Visneskie told the Progress only that he would be at the hearing with his side of the story.
“Obviously my experience with media has been negative,” he said via email. “They painted me as someone that I am not, and printed what fish and game desired to be printed.”
He did not respond to questions about his guilt or innocence of the Alberta charges, or about the social media posts from before his licence was issued in B.C.